By Cassandra Balentine
Disruptive technologies drive industry innovation. One of the latest segments to watch is 3D print. Well suited to serve a range of target markets, from the consumer to enterprise, 3D interest and adoption are on the rise.
Dr. Conor MacCormack, co-founder/CEO, Mcor Technologies, believes we are at the brink of exponential growth in 3D printing. “People will look back on this time in history and see it as the start of a new 3D age. In the next five years we will see further blending of the open source and commercial equivalents, a plateau in the DIY community for building machines in the home, and an increase in bureau services and walk-in-off-the-street 3D print shops, which will really bring 3D printing to the masses,” he predicts.
Gartner recognizes three segments of 3D printing: consumer, enterprise, and industrial. The consumer segment represents products typically used in the home. The enterprise is composed of two sub-segments, prototype—or R&D, and production items—used in a manufacturing process or to make finished consumer and enterprise items. Finally, the industrial category describes devices that stretch anyone’s definition of printer to the limit, and includes a range of prototype, casting, finishing goods uses, and material selection.
At the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo last October, the firm shared some statistics on its 3D. Gartner predicted that in 2013, combined end user spending on 3D printers would reach $412 million, up 43 percent from spending of $288 million in 2012. Enterprise spending will total more than $325 million in 2013, compared to the consumer segment, which will reach nearly $87 million. In 2014, Gartner expects spending to increase 62 percent, reaching $669 million, with enterprise spending of $536 million and consumer spending of $133 million.
IDC also offers insight into the 3D market. In its worldwide forecast, the research firm predicts a 29 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) in value by 2017 and a 59 percent CAGR in units in the forecast period.
Additionally, IDC expects a rapid decline in hardware prices and considerable action in terms of mergers/acquisitions that will further shape the future of the segment.
Areas that stand out for opportunity in 3D range from design and conceptualization to prototyping and manufacturing.
Several drivers and inhibitors influence the adoption of 3D printing. Pete Basiliere, research VP, imaging and printing services, Gartner, explains that about seven years ago, when Gartner began covering the 3D market, the maker movement led to interest in the creation of new technologies. At the same time, expiring patents on Scott Crump’s—founder and current chairman of the board and head of innovation for Stratasys Ltd.—invention of fused deposition modeling (FDM) technology led to a lot of open source development in the market.
As a result, manufacturers began to lower the price of equipment to a range where it was more affordable. Simultaneously, enterprises started to understand that the equipment is within their reach, the quality of the products of the items built were satisfactory, and the availability of materials is improving. “Those dynamics came together and brought us where we are today,” he adds.
Basiliere notes that currently, the biggest area for opportunity ranges from design and concept to manufacturing.
For the design and concept aspect, 3D printing is about getting a sense for what an item will look like. This would be very early in the process of bringing an artist’s sketch to shape. Prototyping goes a step further, refining a concept to the point where the product is sufficient for production.
In terms of manufacturing, there are several things happening. Basiliere adopts Crump’s breakdown of manufacturing to three elements: augmented, actual, and alternative.
Augmented 3D manufacturing occurs when 3D printed items are used in manufacturing lines, providing tools, shapes, and fixtures utilized by someone assembling an item. Basiliere notes an example of an EOS client that utilizes the company’s 3D system to create grippers for robot arms. In scenarios like this, the manufacturing line is augmented with 3D printing, resulting in the ability to rapidly change and improve the line.
With actual manufacturing, the item coming out of the 3D system is a finished good. Retail organizations are a great target for 3D manufacturing. For example, a recent merchandise offering from Disney leverages 3D printing for custom items. During Star Wars weekend at Disney’s Hollywood Studios last year, visitors participated in the D-Tech Me experience to create a custom figurine likeness of themselves as an elite Stormtrooper soldier of the Galactic Empire for $99.95.
According to a Disney blogger, Steven Miller, the merchandise communications manager of Disney Parks, the ten-minute experience uses a high-resolution, single-shot 3D face scanner on visitors, and the captured image is sent to a high-resolution 3D printer to create a customized figurine, which is shipped to the customer a few weeks after the experience.
The alternative manufacturing element represents a scenario where organizations take advantage of 3D printing to replace traditional technologies such as subtractive or casting manufacturing methods. “What 3D printing does in certain cases is enable the replacement of these traditional techniques with additive printing,” explains Basiliere. “I like to say that we are now able to go from design for manufacturing to manufacturing of the design.”
The ability to create items as indented requires a mind shift for many artists, engineers, and manufacturers. It is a trend many forward-thinking businesses are subscribing to in preparing for the future.
Take General Electric (GE) as an example, the company is active in creating an environment for gaining knowledge and education in 3D technology, finding several ways to incorporate it within the organization. Towards the end of 2013, the company hosted a 3D Printing Design Quest, which the company states was meant to challenge innovators to redesign loading brackets found on jet engines with 3D printing. The top ten bracket designs were additively manufactured at the GE Aviation additive manufacturing facility in Cincinnati, OH.
There are several types of additive—or 3D printing—technologies, including digital light processing (DLP), FDM/fused filament fabrication (FFF), plastic jet printing (PJP), selective deposition lamination (SDL), selective heat sintering (SHS), sliding separation (SAS), smooth curvature printing (SCP), stereolithography (SL), and stick deposition modeling (SDM). Here, we highlight each process as described by the companies that offer products using the respective technologies in their own systems.
EnvisionTEC provides The Perfactory System, which builds 3D objects from liquid resin using a projector. According to the company, the projector is similar to those found in presentation and commercial theater systems, known as DLP.
Prodways’ 3D technology is based on MOVINGlight technology, which is a moving DLP. Arnaud Guedou, head of marketing, Prodways, says this results in a high production throughput, no matter how big or small the parts.
Stratasys describes FDM as a technology that builds parts layer-by-layer through the heating of thermoplastic material to a semi-liquid state and extruding it based on computer controlled paths. Two materials are used to produce a print job, molding material and support material.
3D Systems explains that PJP is a solid-based rapid prototyping method that extrudes material layer by layer to build a model.
Mcor printers utilize the SDL process, where a layer of adhesive is selectively placed on top of the first manually placed sheet.
MacCormack explains that this results in a higher density of adhesive deposited in the area that becomes the part, and a much lower density of adhesive is applied to the surrounding area that serves as support.
Blueprinter ApS states that SHS technology uses a thermal printhead, which applies heat on layers of thermoplastic powder in the system’s build chamber.
Asiga utilizes the SAS process, which it says is designed to achieve the lowest fabrication forces of any upside-down SL system to result in minimal support structures and extraordinary accuracy.
Solidscape Inc., a Stratasys company, provides 3D wax printers that utilize SCP. According to the company, the printers combine drop on demand thermoplastic ink jetting technology and high precision milling of each layer with its proprietary graphical front-end software.
Formlabs says SL technology uses a photopolymer-based process with a high precision system that directs a laser across a tray of liquid resin to cause a thin layer to solidify. The build platform then rises in preparation for the next layer.
Fabbster notes that its 3D printer utilizes SDM, which it describes as using profiled-like sticks made of thermoplasts to feed the extruder. With the formlocking drive system, SDM is able to provide a precise dosage of the melt, producing parts with perfect properties in contrast to round, “slippy” filaments.
3D on the Horizon
Although 3D printing is still a relatively small market, it is at the beginning of an exciting path of innovation and adoption that we will continue to watch. dps
Mar2014, DPS Magazine